of Craig County Its People and Places
Vol. 1 - O. B. Campbell
The association started
in Luray, Missouri, as a local organization in 1854 when a group of residents
of that area banded together to form a vigilante group to help combat the
ever-increasing tempo of thievery in their midst. It spread into
Kansas and Indian Territory as well as other places.
Membership in the
organization was open to any man 18 years of age or over whose application
was vouched for by another member and who was able to stand the rigid test
of investigation conducted by a special committee named by the president
of the lodge. Black balls were frequent to reject the application
of proposed members.
A lodge could be
formed with a minimum of 12 members which permitted organizations in scores
of small communities. The lodge charter fee was $5 with annual national
per capita fees ranging from 5 cents to 20 cents. There was usually
an initiation fee of $1. One lodge set its dues on a monthly basis-10 cents
One writer described
the organization as a "detective, protective, patriotic, cooperative, secret
and fraternal association."
The official pin
was a horseshoe across which were the letters A.H.T.A. and a horse symbol
inset in the horseshoe. Later an arrow was substituted for the horse.
Some members wore pins and others didn't. But they were all able
to identify themselves in the lodge room or while on a case by the secret
signs and words of the order.
Under the masthead
of the official newspaper started in 1901 was the admonition "Thou Shalt
Not Steal." It was called the A.H.T.A. Weekly News and circulated throughout
It was no wonder
that the word "horse" found a place in the association's name and on their
emblem. For more than half-a-century after the founding of the organization
the horse was a most vital part of man's property. The horse provided
transportation and was the source of power for the wagons and farm machinery
as well as for the buggy and the surrey. Loss of a horse was a heavy
blow. Missouri, Kansas and the Territories abounded in horse thieves
during the period of the frontier growth.
When an A.H.T.A.
member sustained the loss of property by theft he immediately notified
the head of his lodge and the machinery for recovery of the property and
capture of the thief was set in motion. Two riders were frequently
sent out on the trail, of the criminal. Lodges usually paid a nominal
fee for this service. Telephone and telegraph facilities were used
if available. Mail and railroad services were also placed in use.
Postcards were sent to secretaries of lodges in a wide radius of the place
where the theft occurred asking members to be on the alert for the animal
stolen, with a detailed description given of the animal and often the suspected
In the year of 1903
losses [to] A.H.T.A. members in Indian Territory were estimated at $12,000
but a recovery of $9,800 of this amount of property was reported.
A total of 161 thieves were captured, 96 convicted and trials were pending
for 27. Losses included horses, mules, cattle, saddles and other
Mrs. Daisy Ross ROMANS,
now living in Tulsa, wrote me (O. B. Campbell) that her grandfather Ellis
STARR told the story about a young Cherokee Indian, who had worked for
Starr, disappearing about the same time that a neighbor boy lost a fine
mare. He was found several miles away by an A.H.T.A. team, riding
the mare. He was hanged, although he denied he had stolen the animal.
How many lodges there
were in what is now Craig County is not known but there were several, dating
back to the 1890s.
Kinnison lodge in
northern part of the county was organized in 1898 and was No. 112 in the
Indian Territory. Vinita Lodge was No. 176. Welch had a lodge
as early as 1894. Russell Creek A.H.T.A. was formed in 1903.
Eagle, Cleora, Bluejacket and other communities also had lodges.
Welch had one of
the best in the territory so it was no wonder that in 1901 C.G. (Charles
Gideon) HORN was elected president of the Kansas-Indian Territory district.
Once in a while a
member of a pursuing committee was killed in the line of duty and such
was the case in October, 1900 when J. I. POOLE of Welch, was slain by a
thief traced to Arkansas. Pool's widow was presented a certificate
of consolation. The lodge probably did more.
Pat McNelis' father
was secretary of the Kinnison lodge and has the old minutes book of the
organization. It covers the year of 1898-1899 and reveals a wide
range of activities of the order in that later Craig County community.
Efforts were directed in recovering stolen turkeys, cattie and mules.
Members were asked to furnish a complete list of horses and mules owned
by each with a full description in order to speed recovery in case of theft.
A committee was named to "look after the sick."
One report of a meeting
in 1899 told of a trial held on whether to expel a member for disclosing
secrets of the order. The member had reportedly revealed to an applicant
for membership why he was rejected. The member was expelled but a
year later was reinstated.
From the beginning
a black book was kept by each lodge in strictest confidence. The
lodge listed the known criminals of the area, also the name and description
of anyone who seemed suspicious to A.H.T.A. members -- a man who spent
money but didn't work, people with past shady reputations.
Initiation of members,
often "a bit rough," admits an early member, provided fun at lodge meetings.
Fourth of July picnics, annual roping events and horse races were frequently
sponsored by the lodges for their families and the public.
I (O. B. Campbell)
received a letter recently from a man living in Calumet who reported that
the Horse was dropped from the name in 1928. There are still 3,000
members, most of them in Illinois, he reported. Only about 50 members
remain in Oklahoma.
But before its death
it had at one time 40,000 members in 1300 lodges in 11 Midwestern and north
Not all of the Anti-Horse
Thief lodges dropped the name in 1928, some continuing with that name for
years and were principally social groups. I (O. B. Campbell) remember[s]
that Craig GOODPASTER and Francis Goodpaster belonged to the Cleora lodge.
Francis told me (O.
B. Campbell) one time about the time that he was initiated. He said
there was a sudden interruption in the serious procedure when Buster CARVER
and Elmer WHITESELL got in an argument, struck a few blows and then were
ordered from the lodge hall, which was the old Cleora school building.
After an interval the doorkeeper came in excitedly and said that Buster
and Elmer were coming back into the hall and had guns.
They entered, took
a few shots at each other and as the guns boomed Francis said he hid under
a table. Others tried to find a place of safety. But the guns
were loaded with blanks. It was all in fun just a part of the initiation.
He said that he heard later that at an earlier initiation Floyd KAPP had
jumped out a window. But they all kept the secret, awaiting the next
time they held initiation.
Citing the contribution
that the A.H.T.A. had made and was making on the Western frontier 80 years
ago, one of the Indian Territory division officials wrote:
"The A.H.T.A. has
provided the means by which people could band together for the common good.
Before its existence if a man reported the theft of a horse and sought
to recover it or accused someone, he would draw the enmity of a gang and
would suffer from his individual act. The association removed this
handicap. It was all for one and one for all."
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